Lovin’ That Girard “Complete Street” (Mostly)

Almost all positive reviews of bicycle infrastructure follow the tired and overly true model of “I love this new bike (X), now here is what’s wrong with it.”

I will try to avoid use of this model is reacting to the work done so far on the long-awaited (first public meeting in 2012) Girard Boulevard Complete Streets Master Plan, a project that goes back even further than Albuquerque’s adoption of “Complete Streets” language itself.

Remembering this history and its implication on what constitutes “good” bike infrastructure is important, as what is considered “da bomb” one year is passe and even considered by some dangerous only a few years later. It’s tough keeping up with the rapid changes in thought on how streets should be laid out, a good problem to have, when you think about it, compared with the glacial changes of traffic design and engineering in the “simpler” days where 85th Percentile Speed reigned without any regard for, well, much of anything.

The above is not a caveat in my general love for the new Girard, only context. Take for instance, this view of the new Girard alongside Puerto del Sol Golf Course at/near Kathryn:

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That, my friends, is a narrowed driving lane, a green-backed sharrow and a bike lane heading up a hill, except for when somebody is parked, legally in many places along the new Girard including this section, in the bike lane.

Is it perfect? No. Is it a hell of a lot better biking up this hill than previously? Hell yes. There’s plenty to nitpick here, the sharrow sign perhaps prime pick, but

  1. I’m going to feel safer going up this hill;
  2. Will be more likely to bike this section of Girard because of this improvement; and,
  3. Far more importantly, strongly feel some/several/many cyclists in the neighborhood who currently only ride the residential streets of Ridgecrest/Fringecrest will be motivated and encouraged to ride Girard.

I guess the three points above indicate where my reviewing “paradigm” is at present, especially #3. What will get more cyclists on the road? 

The new Girard will do this.

Let’s look a bit further north, heading north-bound between Silver, and its new iteration of bike boulevard and Central.

IMG_3234

Same idea as along the golf course in this narrow section of the original Girard, with combo bike/parking lane. Note this photo was taken on a Sunday morning; it will be interesting to see how many Bosque Brewing patrons park here. Regarding the green-backed sharrow, now that we’ve used this style on Girard does that not mean we must use it everywhere, e.g., the newly repaved sections of Comanche. Once you go green-backed you can’t go back, I say.

IMG_3235Nudging our way to Central, we see an narrower orphan bike lane reappear (if one thinks of the combo bike/parking lane as a bike lane). This works to separate users at the problematic Girard/Central/Monte Vista intersection, but a few flexposts might help. Note the orphan lane also ends southbound, rather uselessly in that case.

IMG_3237Crossing Central north we get to the most exciting and important improvements. Here blurry cycling buddy John surveys the myriad striping alongside the Taco Bell and funky strip mall along Monte Vista. Lots of hatched striping moves cars to a much narrower Girard, and a buffered bike lane forms after an extended conflict point from the Taco Bell, etc. Does this design eliminate the conflict point? No. Is this far better than the previous Girard? Hell yes.

IMG_3240Heading downhill to Campus northbound we see the parking inconsistency at its most acute. No parking for a bit at the intersection, then permit parking starts up. One wrinkle to keep in mind here is that we’re going downhill. Personally, I find such parking in the bike lane far less objectionable going downhill than up. Hence no parking going southbound here is far more important. Your mileage, and umbrage, may definitely vary fellow cyclists.

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And then a bit further north we get to what is, in my mind, the single biggest reason for this project: Girard and Lomas.

I worked for a dozen years at Jefferson Middle School on the NE side of this intersection. When not cycling to work myself, I drove (*never rode) up this hill mornings watching student after student slowly wobble their way up, wobbling around the trash bins on “trash day” and generally endangering their lives.

The continuous buffered bike lane here is FANTASTIC. One addition that will make it officially FFF (Fan-*******-Tastic) would be a few flexposts between this last driveway and Lomas. In fact, Better Burque calls for flexposts all around this intersection. Looking southbound, we see why they’re needed there as well:

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Not an ideal photo from the other side of the intersection, but flexposts in the buffer would help address a real problem at Girard/Lomas: Drivers whipping northbound on to Girard at unsafe speeds. Posts here would help. Of course they would not eliminate the problem, but they would help.

Let’s repeat that last sentence to close this review: Of course they would not eliminate the problem, but they would help. If the standard for assessing the Girard “Complete Street” is perfection from the standpoint of cyclists, it doesn’t come close. But that standard is unfair and impossible.

Yes, I know some people reading this review do not agree with me on this point.

The standard should not be perfection, but increased safety and, concomitantly, ridership. Did plenty of folks ride Girard before this project? Yes, quite a few. And this project is not for them. They were already “sharing the road” and may very well not even take advantage of the bike lanes and such.

But projects like this aren’t designed for them. They also are designed to be actually implemented, and compromises are essential to making plans a reality.

With these thoughts in mind, I wholeheartedly praise the new Girard Boulevard. Now, dear ABQ, let’s talk about those flexposts.

More to come on that in future postings.

 

*Note that I ride about 4,000 miles a year, bike commuting about 100 days a school year, yet would not ride up this hill. Yeah, it was that bad)

4 thoughts on “Lovin’ That Girard “Complete Street” (Mostly)

  1. Yeah I love the redesign. I did roll my eyes at all of the cars parked on the street but now I’m comfortable riding down the street.

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  2. Your bar. It is low.

    I agree that it is better. In that I now ride it, instead of avoiding it like the bike-plague.

    But given that this will be a design that will likely remain for 20 years, using infrastructure that was cool 20 years AGO (sharrows), but now is pretty uniformly condemned as useless at best, dangerous at worst, is pretty frustrating. I’ve lived with sharrows for 20 years, and assumed I’d seen the last of them.

    The parking in the bike lane: If cars park there, it isn’t a bike lane. It’s a parking lane. Weaving in and out of traffic is more dangerous than just doing the stupid and frustrating “vehicular cycling” that I abhor, and staying in the lane.

    As near as I can suss-out, the only reason for the sharrows and parking in the bike lane thing, is that the nob hill neighborhood association, or someone with representative authority (perhaps slum-lords), whined “where will all the tenants of all those huge apartment buildings along there park!!??”

    So I rode through a couple weeks ago. All I could think was, “what apartment buildings?” I think I was able to identify one, but wasn’t really sure it was an apartment building at all. And this was one block from campus. When I was an undergrad, I would have drooled for an apartment building one block from campus, because it was and negatived the need for a hugely expensive car.

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  3. Biliruben: Apologies for the delayed reply. This going back to teaching nearly full-time is messing with my time to talk sharrows.

    And what about sharrows and “those” sharrows? I agree that sharrows aren’t the way to go. I also agree that these particular sharrows are in place because of illogical and unneeded on-street parking and parking lane. Riding through that section of Girard, I actually notice more single-family than apartments, and I also notice plenty of space to park in driveways.

    I’m not clear on the legal ramifications of removing residential on-street parking, but my strong guess is that home ownership, for example, does not include such an inalienable right. There’s just the “cars, bro, cars” paradigm that seems far harder to get rid of than sharrows.

    That said, and debate on having the political will to take people’s “right” to park car away aside, will this sharrow/parking lane section of Girard result in:

    1. More bicycle ridership in this stretch?
    2. Me riding this stretch, when I didn’t before?

    Yes on both. That, combined with the far better changes made between Central and Lomas (where there’s also a bit of a parking lane problem) has me favoring the project overall. Is that a “low bar”? I can see that view, and my general ornery inclination is to loathe compromise, especially in terms of 20-year work as you state.

    But I am also a pragmatic sort and this work, while imperfect, serves to encourage riders who are currently not riding our streets to give it a try. Growing that number of new riders is the key to changing that “cars, bro, cars” paradigm, and I’m willing to compromise, within limits, to eventually subvert this antiquated thinking.

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  4. I do think incremental change may be necessary. Getting more folks to feel safe enough to realize that utilitarian bicycling is easy and fun in this town will take some time, and with the increase in mode-share, we can hope there is more political will to do projects the right way, rather than simply the easy, politically low-conflict way.

    It’s the reason for this dangerous compromise is what bothers me. Even if you grant a homeowner has the god-given right to block the public right of way for car storage, in this location it doesn’t even appear necessary. My guess is this is mainly going to be used just extended commuter parking for UNM, and will provide less transportation amenity for fewer people than would have been enticed into using it as a bike lane.

    Sorry to hear about your time-crunch. I guess that means I should probably put the finishing touches on part 2 of Lomas installment, and help you out in that small way. It’s mostly written, by summer fun got in the way of adding graphics and such. And I write slow, except when my indignation meter hits red. Then I just write poorly.

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